PATENTS — and in particular software patents — have become an important issue to Free software. That is because, having already shown superiority in many areas (e.g. Apache on the server, Firefox on the client side), Free software faces injurious intimidation from miserable companies that — failing to compete based on technical merits — resort to litigation or preemptive threat (FUD). Here are some of the latest tidbits to be aware of.
OIN and ESP
The OIN takes a very different approach to that of End Software Patents (ESP). The former uses the patent system to defend against certain software patents, whereas the latter seeks to abolish software patents altogether. OIN is mostly backed by companies that possess software patents (large corporations), whereas the latter caters for small players which long ago realised that this system only serves as a gatekeeper for status quo — one that keeps competition out of the market. It’s not even about Free software; any small played is equally vulnerable and stifled regardless of its attitude towards Freedom. As Marco Schulze from Nightlabs Gmbh put it, “small software companies cannot afford to go to court or pay damages. Who is this software patent system for?”
Because of the legacy of Richard Stallman in the, when you’re trying to drive a new paradigm it almost requires a certain level of extremism and I think, you know, so I am not in any way saying that Richard Stallman’s view was a defective one given the times but I think a more balanced view that we now have the benefit of time and being able to adopt and take is that it’s not about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, all intellectual property is not bad and to be rejected by the open source community. I am not anti patent, I am clearly focused on improving the quality of patents and ensuring that there is greater granularity in what ultimately does get granted by the patent and trademark offices around the world so that the patent system is back to what it was designed to be.
This is why companies like IBM call it “Linux” and distance themselves from a doctrine of ethics (GNU). They quietly cherish intellectual monopolies on software, despite the fact that there is something inherently flawed in them. The South African press has just published an article which recites the words of Geraldine Fraser Moleketi.
In March 2008, the Third Idlelo Conference on Free and Open Source Software and Digital Commons was held in Dakar, Senegal by the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA). South Africa’s then Minister for Public Service and Administration, Geraldine Fraser Moleketi, stated: “The adoption of open standards by governments is a critical factor in building interoperable information systems which are open, accessible, and fair and which reinforce democratic culture and good governance practices”. The minister further said patents are “exclusive and anticompetitive in their nature” and there is no reason to believe society benefits from monopolies granted on computer program inventions.
It seems clear there is some disunity within government and its agencies, when the Innovation Fund through its funding instruments is urging the filing of patent applications in the ICT sector to enhance economic growth and competitiveness, while on the other hand a government minister suggests that patenting of computer program inventions is undesirable.
Details about this can be found in Tectonic and the video right here in Boycott Novell. We also recommend the new talk from Ciaran O’Riordan regarding software patents. There is a bunch of points in his Web site as well. Georg Greve claimed the other day that “UMTS patent thicket [is] amounting to 10.000 patents, according to France Telecom/Orange.”
Who benefits from this sordid chaos? It is a big maze of unnecessary complexity.
Microsoft and Apple
Someone has found this good page which accumulates information about Microsoft and software patents. Here is a good sample of the type of things Microsoft wants a 20-year monopoly on.
There are many patents held by Microsoft which should have been denied due to the existance of prior art or because they’re self-evident and are not true inventions as defined by U.S. patent law:
* Double-clicking a button (6,727,830)
* Grouping task bar buttons (6,756,999)
* Two-way scroll mouse (6,700,564)
* Task list generated for software developers (6,748,582)
* Using the human body as a conductive medium for power and data (6,754,472) (much prior art done by research labs)
* The equivalent of the sudo Unix command (6,775,781) as old as at least 1980
Mary Jo Foley discusses the novelty of multi-touch because Apple and Microsoft both claim ownerships in the area, despite the fact that neither has really been an inventor. As Bill Gates once said in reference to Xerox (probably the pioneer/inventor of touchscreens too), “Hey, Steve [Jobs], just because you broke into Xerox’s store before I did and took the TV doesn’t mean I can’t go in later and steal the stereo.”
The multi-touch patent game: Who was first?
While Apple and Palm have tussled over who “owns” multi-touch, Microsoft has kept surprisingly silent.
Apple’s obsession with weird patents has gotten the wrath of The Register yesterday. It was having loads of fun on April 1st.
Another subsection of the filing lists an “electronic device for the inculcation of data-denial modalities among front-line liveware”. This iPod-like device can be securely locked into a trainee’s ear canal, where it will repeat an infinite loop of denial vocabulary until switched off by a prequalified Apple HR officer.
Another joke came from the FFII:
FFII and EPO announce ‘Binaries-As-Prior-Art’
After years of confidential work, the European Patent Office (EPO) and the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) today announce a radical way to improve software patent quality: Binaries-As-Prior-Art, or BAPA. BAPA combines a database of billions of compiled computer programs (“binaries”) with a powerful Cloud search engine that can find any invention in microseconds.
There is nothing funny about an utterly broken patent system, but good humour on this special day sheds light on obvious problems; it contains or brings out an element of truth. █